So, I can’t say I’ve been keeping up with the BET Awards from years past, but I did happen to catch this year’s offering, and I couldn’t help but take a trip through my past to the years I worked the BET Awards as a PR guru-in-training.
It was always a frenzy of activity — and when and if you paused here and there to take it in (otherwise what’s the bloody point?) you’d look up and be standing a hair’s breadth away from a flawless, but unexpectedly tiny, Janet Jackson, of all people.
I remember gawking at her a bit before pulling it together; and I had brought a friend along to help who literally tripped over the furniture in the green room when he glimpsed sight of her. That shit was hilarious.
The BET Awards were truly an experience like no other — these are the awards where I learned just how crucial public relations is to these celebrities, and how these so-called stars tend to reveal more of their, well, let’s just call it “real” selves after enjoying a cocktail or two and some ganja. I worked the awards for a couple of years, until I decided it wasn’t for me.
Those awards taught me that some of these personalities we only get a taste of through our screens, are either as cool as they seem in “real life” or the douchiest of pricks when something doesn’t go exactly their way.
I won’t name him but a very prominent entertainer comes to mind here. He was a prick, and I’ve never forgotten it because he was just so, incredibly nasty. Perhaps he was just having a really bad day or something. We’ve all been there. But I won’t pretend my experience with him that day didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth. But I’ll get back to that, later.
At any rate, one of the by far, coolest celebrities I’ve ever had the pleasure of conversing with is Will Smith.
He had just won an award this one year, I believe it was in 2002 for “Ali” and I was lucky to be the one to escort him, and his then-publicist, Stan Rosenfield, through the cavernous media room. In between junket stops, I got to talking to Mr. Rosenfield and he ended up becoming somewhat of a PR mentor at the time. More on this later, too.
Anyway, Will Smith was charming as fuck, such an impressive, powerful, good energy about him. It was refreshing, because I had become more accustomed to the opposite.
In fact, that incident with Mr. Entertainer I mentioned earlier really helped me make a profound decision back then — that this world was not really one that I wanted to play in. At least not this up close and personal. I figured I was either going to get fired, or I’d have to quit of my own volition. I chose the latter.
But while it lasted, it was a good time. Before landing the gig with BET, I interned at NBC publicity for the summer. I was so sure this was what I wanted to do — I played it by the book, man — became competitive as hell. Only a handful of spots available for this internship? Fuck that — one of those was mine — and thanks to a helpful connection (ah, those wonderfully helpful connections), I landed the gig.
That internship was a rather unpleasant experience, but I actually ran into Stan Rosenfield there for the first time — he was Kelsey Grammer’s publicist then (he still may be, I’ve no idea) — but we connected there initially, and, to my delight and surprise, when he ran into me at the BET Awards that year, he actually remembered me from my NBC stint.
It felt nice. Like I had made an impression. A good one, at that, which let’s face it, is the only kind worth making. The best part about interning for NBC that summer? The official-looking NBC badges everyone had to wear, with your grinning photo incorporated and everything — the peacock logo — all of it; laminated. Fancy. That was the best part. Because they were all identical, those badges. Which meant that when you had that badge on outside of the office where it was known you were nothing more than a lowly intern, you could most definitely use it to your advantage.
For instance. Anybody who knows me knows I’m a rabid Lakers fan; I’m Angeleno born-and-raised; how the fuck could I not be? And Kobe…you are an ultimate badass with all kinds of swagger.
Ok. So I used that NBC badge to get into Shaq’s celebratory party at Hollywood & Highland once after the Lakers had won yet another ring. Then, I used it to get upstairs to the VIP area. It helped tremendously that as soon as I got up there, someone recognized me and shouted my name, so the somewhat skeptical guard had no choice but to shrug and move on.
Then, I used that same motherfucking badge to get inside the VIP, VIP area, where Shaq was holding court and half the team was in attendance. Not Kobe, sadly, (and I really, really wanted to meet him.) But I did get to ask Derek Fisher what it felt like to win another ring, and for him to reply, calm and cocky-as-fuck, arms spread wide, “This is what it’s like. Look around.”
I had a buddy with me that night, (shout-out, Cheese!) who was slightly in awe of how I managed to hustle our way up to VIP — it was fun as hell. I’m sure it didn’t hurt my cause that I was dressed in the shortest of skirts and most backless of tops. Don’t get it twisted though — it was sexy, not classless.
When I had to give that NBC badge back, I wasn’t happy; but we’ll always have our memories, that badge and I.
Ok, so one year, at the BET Awards, Mr. Entertainer disgusted me so thoroughly by his behavior that evening that I decided I had no wish to surround myself with the likes of him. What had happened was (I know, finally) celebrities were being led into a room on an upper floor to record footage for a tribute video and Mr. Entertainer wanted in. As I was leading him there I got called on my headset to go see about another high profile matter. So, I saw an intern, one of many, and asked her quite calmly if she could direct Mr. Entertainer and his entourage to the room where the tribute footage was being recorded. Interns had been directing guests there all night; this wasn’t an offhand request. She assured me that she had it handled. Turns out she’s no Olivia Pope.
I go to take care of other matters, and a few minutes later I find my way up to an isolated corridor, where the celebrity and his entourage are nowhere near the room they’re supposed to be in, and an irate Mr. Entertainer is going off on the intern. I mean, look. I get that he was frustrated and highly annoyed — but you just don’t talk to people like that; that shit was not right. He was awful. Being only a junior publicist at the time, I did offer profuse apologies to him — to no avail; his then-girlfriend, member of a popular female group, was more forgiving, and ended up spending her whole evening trying to cheer him the fuck up. It probably didn’t improve his mood that every time I came across him that night, I apologized again. I’m not proud of it; but I was quite young, and relatively new to the game. But in hindsight it probably irked the hell outta him. I didn’t like feeling like I had to apologize to people for shit beyond my control; especially when those people could show themselves to be so vile.
So shortly thereafter, I quit my gig as a junior publicist, and, although I was offered a job with Mr. Stan Rosenfield and his associates — A list shit — and passed their test with flying colors, (yes they actually gave you a PR test before they’d even consider bringing you in to interview) — I thanked them profusely, and declined the offer.
That was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made in my whole life. But if it wasn’t for that unpleasant experience that I had at the BET Awards, it would’ve been all the harder. So as I sit back, relax and enjoy 2015’s awards, I think back on some of my experiences, and reflect.
Congrats on 15 years BET Awards. I’m glad we got to know each other a bit.